ros, and sconces, though less commonly on chairs and tables.
The fluted column became an important feature of construction and ornament, both in woodwork and metal-work. On cabinets and such pieces this column appears in the form of a fluted pilaster, sometimes tapering to the floor, sometimes resting on claw-feet. Frequently the flutings were filled at intervals with quills or husks, often gilded. On chairs and tables the column takes the form of straight, round, vertical legs, fluted and slightly tapering.
Flat surfaces of walls and furniture, always decorated during the previous period, were now often left in the form of plain, rectangular panels, surrounded by mouldings, in place of irregular panels encrusted with ornament. The corners of the rectangles were usually broken, and often there was a medallion or painting inside, somewhat in the Pompeian manner. In place of arms, armor, weapons, and the victor's palm of Louis XIV, or the Watteau and Boucher pastorals of Louis XV, these medallions were classic in subject, or musical instruments, Cupid's quiver, baskets and garlands of flowers, wreaths and bay-leaves.
Many artists and cabinet-makers contributed to the development of this style, including men of great talent and ability. Probably the greatest cabinetmaker of the period was Riesener, who had gained fame and experience during the previous reign. He was a master of marquetry, using woods like pigments. A younger man, equally noteworthy, was David Röntgen, more often referred to as cc David," who was patronized by Marie Antoinette, and who is not to be confused with Jacques Louis David, the painter. He also was a producer of wonderfully minute marquetry. The greatest metal-worker of the period was Gouthiere, who often cooperated with Riesener. And there were other artists, craftsmen, and decorators whose work should be discussed if space permitted.
Many woods were employed by the cabinetmakers of this period, chiefly oak, walnut, and mahogany. Mahogany became more popular than walnut, but the latter was much used for the frames of upholstered furniture, either natural or enameled in soft colors. Ormolu mounts continued in use on the larger furniture, and also inlay of tulip, rose, pear, amboyna, holly, mahogany, ebony, etc. Lacquered furniture was also in demand to some extent. Light tints prevailed in woodwork and upholstery, the wood often being stained or finished with white enamel and gilding.
The metal-work of the period was, as a rule, superbly executed, some of it appearing like jewelry. Chinese porcelains were much used, mounted in bronze, and Sevres plaques were inserted in furniture.
Interior decoration and woodwork partook of the same general character as the furniture. Door- and window-frames became more strictly rectangular," with the carved ornament much smaller and finer. Walls were frequently divided by fluted pilasters into panels which were decorated after the Pompeian or Italian Renaissance manner.
Furniture, when not gilded or enameled, was highly polished, much more of the wood showing than on Louis XV furniture. Bronze mounts were still used, particularly on the dark wood pieces, but Boulle's inlay of tortoise-shell had gone out of fashion. Large pieces, such as vitrines, cabinets, commodes, desks, etc., were commonly made of this dark, polished wood, with metal mounts and occasionally inlay. Sometimes they were furnished with marble tops. Tables were often made in this style, too, of dark polished wood, frequently mahogany, with metal mounts or inlay, and with marble tops, but they are not so pleasing as the lighter stands and tables in white or tinted enamel or gilt. The ma ble tops sometimes look a bit too heavy for the slender legs.
The legs of chairs, sofas, tables, commodes, desks, etc., command particular attention because they were distinctive and differed radically from those of the previous reign. These pieces of furniture stood squarely and honestly straight, but not ungracefully so. The curved and cabriole leg was gone, and in its place appeared a straight, comparatively slender, somewhat tapering shaft with no underframing. The typical Louis XVI leg has never seemed as graceful to me as the more slender, reeded leg designed by Sheraton, but, as I say, it was distinctive. It was classic in detail and generally fluted, the fluting being varied with lines of threaded beads, husks, shorter reedings or flutings, or with linings of brass and metal headings. The feet were often shod with bronze ferrules or finely finished with a ring, an acanthus cup, or a vase-like terminal adapted from the Pompeian. The top of the leg was often carved in a tiny wreath, a row of beading, or a torch-like ornament, or it was topped with a bronze cap. Table-legs often had female heads in ormolu at the top.
As is often the case, the chairs were among the most interesting products of the period. Walnut was the wood most commonly used for chairs, either finished natural or enameled and gilded. Oak and other woods, frequently painted in soft colors or white, were also used for chairs.
Sinuous curves disappeared from the chair-backs, which were usually rectangular, round, or oval in shape. They still produced the effect of exquisitely carved frames for upholstery. Often a bow of ribbon was carved at the top. Square or round seats predominated. The arms were rather high at the juncture with the back and were straight or gently curving, resting on straight or slightly curved supports, which, in turn, rested squarely on the front legs.
The new type of leg has already been mentioned —a straight, slender, vertical shaft, usually round, fluted, and more or less tapering. This was used with both the round-back and the square-back chairs. The effect was saved from stiffness by the proportions and the decoration. A great variety appears in the fluting, and the foot was always given a neat finish. There was seldom any underbrac-ing.
The use of cane increased for the backs and seats of chairs, and is frequently to be found with painted, gilded, and natural walnut frames. Dining-room chairs of the period very often had cane seats and backs, or were covered with material to match the walls and hangings.
The majority of the chairs,.however, were upholstered in fine materials, including brocades and Gobelin, Beauvais, and Aubusson tapestries. Delicate colors prevailed in the upholstery goods, suited to the gilt and white or light-tinted enamels used on the wood. The stuffs were rich, but the designs were smaller than those of the Louis XV upholstery, to match the finer detail of the woodwork. The popular patterns included stripes of fine lines and small florals, as well as larger flowers and foliage, baskets, ribbons, etc. The effect was nearly always light and dainty. Loose cushions of eiderdown were much used with chairs and sofas.
Sofas were upholstered in the same materials, were usually gilded or enameled, and followed, in general, the lines of the chairs. The Louis XVI sofa was longer than that of the previous period and had more legs.
Briefly, these details represent the style developed during the score of years of Louis XVI's reign. In
Three-legged round table with mosaic top, gryphon supports, and the flaming torch in the ccnter
Dining table of the plainer Jacobean type. 1650-1675
some respects this period marks the climax of French decorative art. Then came the Revolution, the ruin of the state ateliers, and the abrupt termination of the Louis XVI period.
THE EMPIRE (1799-1$14)
THE period of the French Empire was the last of the great historic decorative periods. The styles of the period were, unlike most others, not the result of a gradual development, but of a rather abrupt change.
After Louis XVI came the Revolution, and for a time the arts in France languished. Indeed, the Revolution may be said to have destroyed art. The aristocracy, the patrons of art, were ruined, and there was a general dislocation of the art industries.
The Revolution began in 1792, the Directory was established in 1794, the Consulate under Napoleon in 1799, and the Empire in 1802. The decorative period of the Empire is usually given as extending from 1799 to 1814.
For the first few years chaos reigned in the French art world. During the Directory there was an attempt at reconstruction. An art commission was appointed, of which Riesener and David Röntgen were members. A treatment of the classic came into vogue, sometimes rather dainty, based on the Roman and Pompeian; but it was an artificial style, not that of a period of natural transition. As a rule, bad taste reigned and art tradition was largely annihilated.
Then came Napoleon to dominate the art world as he dominated everything else in France. He proceeded to refit the royal palaces in accordance with his own ideas, and the people followed his lead in decorative matters. The style of the Directory was an attempted return to the antique, but Napoleon diverted the trend of taste into somewhat different channels, though he also found his inspiration in Rome.
Under Napoleon the French artists and designers were given a new chance, so long as they conformed to the emperor's ideas and sought to interpret his desires. The result was a period of noteworthy if somewhat restricted production. David and Riesener, who had worked under Louis XVI, were the leaders at first. They were followed by the architect-decorators Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine and others. A book of designs published by Percier and Fontaine in 1812 offers a good record of the
Empire style. Their work at least combined modera comfort and Greek beauty.
The furniture of the period expressed not a court, not an epoch of French life; it expressed the overwhelming personality of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was a period of heroics, of ceremony, of novelty. Napoleon aped the grandeur of the Caesars, and the design details of the period were suggested by the idea of imperialism and conquest.
The decorative styles, which were based largely on the imperial Roman, became cold, formal, heavy, with little of the light or fanciful about them. They were not lavishly magnificent, like the styles of Louis XIV, yet, though somewhat stiff and constrained, they were not without a certain dignity and grandeur and were never effetely luxurious.
Empire furniture was characterized by good cabinet work, finely executed metal mounts, beautiful mahogany, and rich upholstery. Construction was for the most part simple, but it was a heavy, formal simplicity, not the graceful simplicity of Louis XVI.
Mahogany was the wood most used by the cabinetmakers, both solid and veneered, enriched with applique. Marquetry was discarded and there was only a moderate amount of carved wood, but much plain surface embellished with finely modeled brass,
bronze, gilt, and ormolu mounts. The framework of Empire chairs was generally mahogany, or painted, enameled, bronzed, and gilded woods. For the most part, the mahogany was finished natural, with but little gilding. The popular upholstery stuffs included loud brocades and silks or velvets in plain, strong colors, frequently rich green or ruby red, figured or sprinkled with formal, classic motifs. Tapestries, so popular during the preceding periods, were little used.
The decorative details of the Empire style were significant and symbolic, reflecting the glory of the emperor. There was nothing approaching rococo, and the dainty forms of the Louis XVI period were wholly abandoned. The classic anthemion came back in Roman form, together with the wreath of bay, the torch, the Roman eagle, the Roman fasces, the Phrygian cap of liberty, the Athenian bee, the laurel branch, the Greek fret and honeysuckle, the winged Victory, other winged figures, including cherubs, the helmeted heads of warriors, trophies and weapons, the letter N in a victor's wreath, and, after the Egyptian campaign, the sphinx. These details are to be found especially in the metal mounts, which well repay special study. Among the constructive features of Empire furniture are to be found the fluted column upholding a torch, the plain, round, supporting column, and various forms of the lion's foot.
The chairs of the period ranged from fairly simple side-chairs to elaborate throne-like affairs. In general, they may be divided into two types. The larger chairs were massive, pretentious, and lavishly enriched with metal mounts and structural carving. Sometimes a sweeping horn of plenty curves down into the arm, or the arms are terminated with the heads of rams, lions, etc. Sometimes strange gryphons form the front supports, the heads supporting the arms of the chair and the bodies drawn out into the single shaft of the leg, with a lion's foot resting on the floor. Flaming torches and gryphons appear where there is no logical need for them.
There were also armchairs fashioned on the model of the ancient curule seat, heavier than those of the Italian Renaissance, often with swans' necks for arms, supported by cupids. The typical Empire armchair, with its wide, concave back, was at least comfortable.
Often these forms verged upon the grotesque, but there was, happily, a simpler type of Empire chair that was full of dignity and not without grace. These chairs, severely simple in form, had square
frames and straight, round legs, the back legs often curving slightly outward. They were made of plain mahogany or of some other wood enameled white. Little carving was used on them, but they were usually ornamented with well-modeled ormolu mounts and were elegantly upholstered.
Among the tables, the medium-sized round ones were commonest, though there were also square ones, while the consoles and pier-tables were usually stiffly rectangular. A common form of table had short claw feet upon which rested a low shelf; this supported straight, round, vertical pillars which, in turn, supported the top. Sometimes such tables were supported by carved gryphons resting on a shaped base, while some of the heavier ones were supported by sphinxes. Often the round tables had a central column, with a broad base resting on three lion's feet, a form which served as a model for many of our American "Colonial" tables; or a three-cornered plinth on three carved feet supported three round columns.
Most of the tables were of mahogany, either solid or veneered, though there were also enameled tables. The table-tops were often of marble, usually white or nearly black. Metal mounts were much in evidence, and metal feet and pillar-caps. A common feature of secretaries and tables was a round column of mahogany, with an ornamental cap of bronze in the form of a sphinx's head, and a bronze foot at the base. Often the caps were modeled in the anthe-mion form.
Often the supports of consoles, cabinets, bookcases, etc., showed little style in the rear, being sometimes merely flat boards, but the front legs were usually more elegant, often tapering, crowned with the female bust, and with feet of ormolu. Mirrors were often set into the under parts of consoles, beneath the top and against the walls. Gryphons and sphinxes sometimes took the place of the round columns as the front supports of console tables.
In the form of the bed a great change took place. The overdraped forms of the preceding periods gave place to plain but stately couches or to heavy, boxlike affairs, with head- and foot-boards of the same height, either straight or rolling, and with no posts or canopy.
Interior decoration followed the same general scheme as furniture design. The walls were largely plain, strongly colored panels, rather Pompeian in type, sometimes relieved by the gold N in a wreath or one of the other Napoleonic symbols. Hangings were often rich velvets. Candelabra and sconces
A typical drop-front desk of the Empire period, showing the round pillars, vertical form, and ormolu mounts
A typical bed of the Empire period, built of mahogany enriched with ormolu mounts were frequently winged figures, stiff in modeling but good in material and finish.
Such are the salient features of the style which was predominant in France during the first decade of the last century. Americans were pro-French in those days, and after the Sheraton influence had passed we began borrowing more freely from France than from England. The styles of the French Empire, therefore, have a peculiar interest for us because, though we wrought many changes in the process of adaptation, they formed the basis of American decorative styles during the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Mahogany was plentiful here, the cabinet-making trade was flourishing, and we turned out a large quantity of so-called American-Empire furniture, constructed largely with posts and columns, often carved in coarse pineapple and acanthus-leaf designs, but in general following the Empire spirit. And not all of it was bad.
A few years ago one occasionally heard of a drawing-room, music-room, dining-room, hall, or other formal apartment, being furnished and decorated in the Empire style, and when it was well done the result was not without beauty and distinction. Americans, however, have apparently found the style too cold for their liking, especially for use in the home, and it seems to have fallen into general disfavor. Manufacturers inform me that they are making practically no reproductions or adaptations of Empire furniture; there is no call for them. It seemed to me, however, that this style should receive as much attention as the styles of more popular periods, in order to round out logically the subject of the French decorative styles.
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